Getting to Know My Neighbors


Now that I've been working at home for over 400 days, I've really gotten to know my neighbors--the backyard neighborhood life, that is.

The squirrels have become so accustomed to having a little dish of shelled peanuts that I find them waiting at the patio door as soon as I finish my morning yoga. They have even begun taking peanuts in the shell from my hand when I hold them out.

As I was typing an email for work one morning I heard scratching at the patio door and found a furry little customer waiting, or rather, demanding more nuts. If I installed a little doorbell I wonder if I could get them to ring when they are hungry.😀

In addition to the usual three squirrels who have learned there are plenty of nuts to go around, I've seen birds I never knew about. The Steller's Jays also like the bowl of peanuts. 

Townsend's warbler
Other birds I've seen are the spotted towhee, Townsend's Warbler, nut hatch, bush tit, house wren, variegated thrush, flicker, gold finch, and junco. And hummingbirds enjoy the flowering red currant in the backyard.

Pine siskin
The pine siskin was responsible for a terrible salmonella outbreak among birds this spring in Seattle and people were asked to take down bird feeders for three weeks to stop the spread. I missed my feathered friends, but it didn't take them long to return once the seeds were back.

Black-capped chickadees are my favorite and there are several who have also learned about the peanut bowl. I've seen people feed them out of hand, but haven't been able to do this myself. 

With the warmer weather we've had I've started putting out water for the critters to drink. It didn't take the chickadees long to discover the dish is perfect for a little bath, and the squirrels were drinking by the afternoon.

The backyard visitors I'm not so keen on are the raccoons. They are often vicious, especially if cornered or with young ones. Other backyard friends I am happy to have visit are the rabbits. They are so cute I'll happily share my spinach and strawberries with them.







Stropharia rugosoannulata photo from wikimedia


It would appear that I have a wilted thumb when it comes to growing peas, carrots, beets, or many other vegetables. But potatoes and tomatoes manage to survive, and herbs thrive. While pondering just how many Yukon golds and cherry tomatoes to put in the ground, my husband asked why not try mushrooms?

A day earlier I happened to have watched a video on growing wine cap mushrooms and it seemed easy. The video creator happily wandered through his backyard garden cutting wine cap mushrooms from under leaves and thanking his fungi for providing nutritious food.

What better place to grow fungus than in the Pacific Northwet? After watching a few more videos I sent away for my wine cap

mushroom kit. A few days after it arrived, I got the first bale of straw I’ve ever purchased, too. Straw is necessary to layer with forest duff (decaying vegetable matter covering the ground under trees) to grow the wine caps. Straw is also great for covering the potatoes as they grow.

The straw and duff are laid down in what is called the "lasagna method", and then the layers need to be well-watered. After a thorough soaking, the 15 spawn pegs we received in our mushroom kit were pushed into the layers of straw and duff.

Now we just need to keep everything wet, and with a 100% chance of rain the following day, we picked the perfect Saturday for starting our wine cap mushrooms!

While researching how to grow mushrooms I also learned of the great health benefits many varieties have. Mushrooms such as lion's mane, reishi, maitake, shiitake, and turkey tail protect your brain as you age, help your memory, provide antioxidants, and some even have cancer-fighting properties.

In two to three months I'm looking forward to a crop of wine cap mushrooms popping up in the backyard garden, and I'm hoping the squirrels leave some for us!



Why Trains ~ by Patrick Webb

Have you ever unexpectedly fallen in love with something? That was me with trains. However, there were some moments in my childhood that shaped it.

When I was nine years old, my family visited a local miniature railway, the Old Wakarusa Railroad. I was ecstatic to ride on the tiny train that was only slightly taller than me! The ride around the simple figure eight railway was one of the happiest moments of my childhood. 

Sadly, the Old Wakarusa Railroad was sold in 2008, but one of the engines that used to work there, No. 98, has been preserved at the Riverside & Great Northern Railroad in the Dells, Wisconsin. 

Another influence was a certain cheeky blue tank engine on TV. I’m sure plenty of parents are familiar with Thomas and Friends, whether watching it themselves or with their children.

Thomas the Tank Engine, Image Credit the Thomas Wiki

For me, Thomas represented a form of escapism in my childhood from the struggles of daily life. Following the engines on the island of Sodor gave me a way to relax and inspiration for my own writing. My first attempt at telling a story was based on a PBS news challenge, (I naturally chose Thomas for the subject). While four-year-old me couldn’t figure out if “One day” was spelled with “one” or “won,” it sparked my creativity.

The more I learned online about “The Railway Series,” the books which inspired the show, the more inspired I became. The Reverend Wilbert Awdry spent a great deal of time working on the backstory of Sodor to make it seem like a real place. Worldbuilding for a series with talking engines may seem silly, but that’s part of what made Thomas work: Awdry treated it as stories of a real railway, with real engines who just so happen to talk.

As I grew older, my interest in trains shifted towards preservation. If you’ve ever seen or ridden behind a steam locomotive, you likely have the work of preservation to thank for them still being around. 

Restoring steam locomotives can take years or even decades! 

One of the longest restorations in my current memory is of the Flying Scotsman. Built in 1923, Flying Scotsman is the last locomotive of its class in existence. And what a life it’s lived. Flying Scotsman was one of the first steam locomotives bought for preservation in the United Kingdom. It has traveled to North America and Australia, holds two world records (first steam engine to officially reach 100 mph, and the longest nonstop run of a steam locomotive). Flying Scotsman is now owned by the National Railway Museum (UK). It’s arguably one of the most famous steam engines in the world.  

            Flying Scotsman on display after its newest restoration. 

               Image Credit: David Moyle - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, 

It took a decade for Flying Scotsman to get restored, appearing (controversy, depending on who you ask) in its 1960’s appearance before it was preserved. While it’s not her most famous livery of apple green, Flying Scotsman still looks smart. She’s still running today, providing people entertainment and a fun ride into history. Not a bad fate for a nearly 100-year-old engine.

Trains are a more niche interest. Sadly, the community is often seen as a hobby for old men. However, trains are for everyone.

An example is Jennifer Kirk, who reviews model trains and does livestreams on Monday for people to have a community space. You can check out one of her reviews here. 

It’s hard to imagine me without liking trains. Had I never caught the train bug, I wouldn’t be the same person I am. And I’m certainly glad that my interest in trains has survived beyond my childhood.

My hope, once I graduate and the Pandemic ends, is to travel to various museums and excursion railways, to get up close and personal with the iron giants of the past. And you don’t have to know everything about trains to enjoy them. Look up your nearest excursion/heritage railway or museum and consider going for a ride back in history.

 The Jacobite excursion train on a bridge made famous by the Harry Potter films. Image Credit: Unsplash

Patrick Webb is a Writing Major, minoring in Communication. He enjoys reading Comics (mostly superheroes, but also slice of life), Fantasy, and Science Fiction. You can find him on Twitter, @ConductorPat, and follow his blog, tugandtramblogging

I’m Slow, and That’s Okay ~ Marj Ivancic

“Their victories do not equate to your failures.”

That’s a mantra of sorts for me. I came up with it somewhere around age forty when I had a personal epiphany about myself and how I reacted to other people’s “successes.”  I realized I was allowing their accomplishments, big and small, to make me question my own abilities. I was trying to seize myself up against them. This need to compare stems from some deep-rooted confidence issues, I know. And it took me a while to see it. But now that I know that trait is there, I’ve been making a concerted effort to head it off before it can get in my way. And I’ve done a decent job, though I have to admit, it’s been especially difficult since entering the indie author world. 

Or more specifically, the dark realm of social media.

For an excruciatingly slow writer, seeing post after post of authors celebrating the release of their umpteenth book is painful. I cannot fathom being able to crank out a full-length novel in under a year, let alone four or more. Yet that is what some are able to do.

Yes, I work full time. Yes, I have family obligations, a house to care for…yadda, yadda, yadda. But those obligations aren’t unique to me. Plenty of other writers have those same time-sucks (and more!) and yet are prolific little literary rabbits.

So, why do the words come so quickly for them but so slowly for me?

Perhaps it means I’m not meant to be a writer. Or maybe, I’m just not a good writer. Because a real writer wouldn’t struggle to bring their story to life, right?

And then I stumbled on this little gem: Your Thinking Rate Is Fixed.

In this blog, the author discusses the concept that the speed with which we think and make decisions is set and cannot be sped up. And while the article is primarily focused on decision-making in the workplace, I think it applies to writing as well, for doesn’t crafting a solid story require thousands of decisions?

Does my character go here or there? How does he/she react? Which action verb best conveys the emotion he/she is feeling? What plot twist will keep the pages turning?

As an author, I think about each and every one of those questions. A lot. I roll them around in my mind. I take them for walks. I sit and stare silently at them, waiting for them to talk to me.  And in truth, I do this with nearly all things in my life. I am also terrible at debates, because I can’t process someone’s points fast enough to come back with a good counterpoint. It’s usually days later when I think of the perfect thing to say. Because by then, I’ve had time to consider the statement or question from all angles, to haul forth other information from my brain’s cache store and apply it.

I certainly don’t blame ALL of my sluggish production on the fact that my thinking rate is set to “tortoise” rather than “hare,” but it does relieve some of the pressure. Because like other things I can’t change about myself, such as my height or the size of my feet, I can let it go. I don’t have to waste any more time and effort trying to combat it. Instead, I can move on to the things I can control, like not comparing myself to anyone other than the person in the mirror.

Travel Through the Pages ~ Lexa Fisher



Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

While I no longer feel comfortable traveling, I can still visit the places I'd love to see by reading books set in those locations. 

I love books that allow me to walk down the streets, feel the weather on my skin, smell the roses, bougainvillea, or orange blossoms.

No longer having a daily commute, I  have nearly two more hours a day to indulge in exploring new genres and finding new authors to follow.

In addition to traveling to new places through books, I can also travel to times I'd love to visit. My current work in progress has backstory in the late 19th century and my research involves reading not only fictional stories set in this time, but also reading historical accounts of how people lived back then.

Online newspapers going back to the early 19th century have been extremely helpful. Products that were advertised, recipes, and small town news stories paint a detailed picture of daily life and help me create a more immersive story.





Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash


Another route I've traveled is down memory lane.This trip helps me add greater detail to my work in progress. What were my grandmothers' kitchens like, their gardens, their basements? The latter were always terrifying to this young child with their low ceilings, dim lighting, and cobwebs everywhere, heavy with dust.

Everywhere I've traveled through the books I've read this past year has been from the comfort of my own home, no reservations needed. I only need time to make a warm drink and settle in with my wonderful travel companion--Miss Bridgett. She's quite happy to sit beside me in a rocking chair as I journey through the pages.


Word Choice Makes All The Difference

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado
on Unsplash

Words. We have a choice. There are over 470,000 English words to choose from according to Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Most English speakers rely on 20,000 - 30,000 to communicate verbally. Writer's may expand their word usage a bit more with the help of a thesaurus.  

Whether speaking or writing, thinking about word choice and the message we want to convey is important. 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Word choice matters when giving directions. Have you ever been lost and stopped to ask directions and felt more confused after the person explains? Even worse, you ask directions and two or three people try to help you at the same time. 

Words are powerful and once uttered cannot be retrieved. Word choice can enhance or destroy a relationship. Have you ever thought, I didn't mean what I said?

In the words of Yehuda Berg, "Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble."

We all start out not knowing any words. As infants, we vocalize sounds. Eventually, those sounds become words. Later, those words can be strung into phrases and sentences that humans utilize for communication.  

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

When we communicate in writing, we have the option of revising before we publish. I consider this an extraordinary opportunity to look at my word choice. Do I really mean he was a nice guy or can I describe my hero more vividly?   

I've taught writing for more than twenty-five years to a broad range of learners--from children as young as eight to grown-ups in their seventies. One of the areas I always emphasize, once that first draft is done, is to look at word choice. Is it a small dog or a ten pound poodle? Would she walk or saunter or march out of a room?

I'm reminded of an episode of Friends when Joey wants to support Chandler and Monica by writing a letter to the adoption agency. Joey struggles with the writing until Ross shows him how to access the online thesaurus. Naturally, the resulting letter is hilarious because Joey used the thesaurus to replace almost all of his original nouns and verbs. He had no idea about nuance. 

In writing, word choice can make the difference in a book that is well received and a book that flops.

"My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you see." Joseph Conrad

Interested in learning more about word choice? Join us for an online writing class on Saturday, March 27. Strategies to Jump Start Your Writing  

Slow Down ~ by Author Marj Ivancic

Slow down.
Pay attention.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard those two phrases in my life. They were usually preceded by some knuckleheaded move on my part. You know the kind. Moving too fast, brain elsewhere. Adding bleach to the dark laundry; scuffing the wall paint with the chair leg; knocking a glass from the counter.

But this month, I had cause to think upon those words more deeply as I wrote my father’s eulogy.

My dad was a man of thought before action, which meant he wasn’t one to suffer mistakes gladly. Yet, what I think he was really saying when he levied those parental admonishments was, “have care” or “proceed with care.”

What is it to care for something or someone?

To protect. To take responsibility for. To look after.

Weighty stuff, eh? So, why apply it to “things” like possessions?

For my dad, it wasn’t about materialism. In his mind, to care for
something required having appreciation for it. And if you appreciate something, then gratitude surely follows. And a life of gratitude is a content one.

Slow down.
Pay attention.

If you learn to be grateful for the small things, like possessions, just imagine how grateful you will be for the really important stuff—your body, your mind, your loved ones, this planet, your fellow man.

Slow down.
Pay attention.

Be in the moment. They pass too quickly, these precious moments of our lives, big and small. Appreciate those breaths, those chances we are given which show themselves in the minutes and hours of time spent with our loved ones.

Slow down.
Pay attention.

What a wonderful life philosophy. What a wonderful lesson. What a wonderful man. I am forever indebted.

It's Never to Late to Follow Your Dreams ~ by Author Darlene Kuncytes


photo: Deposit Photos
On Valentine’s Day this year, I celebrated eight years since publishing my first book. 

Eight years!!! 

It still blows me away. 

I have always loved books and reading and writing. For as long as I can remember, I loved weaving tales. 

In my younger days, it was sitting under the street light in the summer telling ghost stories. Oh, how I loved that! I would make up monsters and stories and loved when I would actually scare my friends. (yes, I have an evil streak! Lol)

When I hit my teens, I would sit quietly in study hall – not studying of course, but writing stories. It was my true love.

My dream.

photo: Google photos
I never wanted to be a princess or a ballerina when I was a kid. Although, I did take dance classes that I enjoyed, but it just wasn’t my goal in life. Nope. This girl wanted to be the next Stephen King or John Saul! 

Then as I got even older, I began to write romance. 

I still love horror, but I am a sucker for that happy ending! (Thank you, LaVryle Spencer!)

I have written my entire life. There are tidbits of stories all over my house, but it wasn’t until I was in my forties that I was brave enough to actually take that step and make my dreams come true. 

I bit the bullet and published my very first novel. 

And it was like nothing I had ever experienced! I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting it was!

I published my first book knowing nothing, but I was lucky enough to find a core group of amazing people who helped me along my journey. And believe me, I needed it. I was scared spitless! Lol

I was terrified, and I told myself that my family and friends would most likely be the only ones who would be kind enough to actually pay for my book, but at least I was making my dream come true. I was a published author! 

I was forty-something and FINALLY doing what I'd wanted to do forever. And do you know what? I do not regret a thing! 

Well, that’s not entirely true. I do regret not taking the plunge sooner. 

And now, it’s eight years and fourteen books later, and the dream continues! 

You see…dreams are funny things. They start to flicker in us as children and linger in our hearts forever. Some of us follow them straight away, while others, for whatever reasons, won’t take that plunge. 

What I have discovered and want to stress is that is it NEVER too late. Don’t ever let fear or the bumps in the road keep you from what turns that flicker into a full-blown flame!

photo: Google photos

Because you know what? The only thing we will ever truly regret in life are the chances we didn’t take.

LIVE that dream. 

One of my best friends decided she wanted to follow her dreams of becoming a nurse and started school well into her thirties. She would always laugh and tell me that she felt like everyone’s mother! lol
Now she is working at a lab researching a cure for Leukemia.
So, no matter what excuses you find for not taking that chance, there are a million reasons why you should. 

Dreams can be tucked away for however long and still be there waiting for you to make them come true. They don’t have an expiration date! Don’t ever short-change yourself by saying that it’s to late. 

It isn’t! 

Follow them. Make them come true and find your passion. Your inner self with thank you for it! 

Stay safe! 

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival ~ by Author Jennifer Daniels

The Winter Carnival has been a long running tradition for Saranac Lake, NY.  Many people have come to witness this amazing 10 day spectacle for years.

The opening ceremony begins with the coronation of the King and Queen. This is followed by the lighting of the castle and an amazing firework display that is spectacular. Over the 10-days they have parades, different performances, and all different kinds of outdoor activities. There is something new to do every day. On the last night it ends with another amazing firework display.

All of the hard work that goes into this weekend is done by the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee. The townspeople volunteer their time to build the castle from huge blocks of ice cut from the lake. This event a wonderful way for families to get outside and have some winter fun.

This year the Castle’s theme was “Masquerade” which is very fitting for the time we are currently in. The castle is opened to have your pictures taken in front of and of course you can walk through the different passages. Every year it is constructed differently.

But like all things this year, the carnival was vastly different. You could not approach the castle and you had to watch the fireworks from afar. This year’s event had minimal activities and the closing ceremony was cancelled.

My husband, son, and I donned our masks and went to the opening ceremony, and even though we could not get close to the castle, it was nice to be in the fresh air and watch the fireworks from afar. 

We had the perfect viewing spot. But, for my family, the drive itself was gorgeous. It had snowed all day long so the trees were dusted with the newly fallen flakes, everything sparkled. It was
a fun family outing.

Celebrate the Day ~ by Grace Augustine

Yesterday I celebrated another orbit around the sun. It was a quiet day filled with many good wishes. Thanking all of you who sent them. My son asked what I wanted for my birthday and purchased a FitBit. He made lasagna and picked up a slice of authentic tiramisu from a local Italian restaurant. With a blanket and Bou on my lap, it was an afternoon of bliss as I watched a bit of television and took a nap. The perfect way to spend the day. A very happy girl :)

Today, we celebrate so many more things. Here are just a few:

The anniversary of George Washington's birthday. Former firstpresident, George Washington, was born on February 22, 1732, making him 289 years old today. One of his more famous quotes is "It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one."

National Margarita Day:
The conception of this day has been long hidden in history. No one truly knows its origin. A common story regarding this is that it was invented in 1938 by restaurant owner Carlos Herrera. Another thought is that Don Carlos Orozco, a bartender at a Mexican establishment, whipped up a drink with tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice, and served it to a German Ambassador's daughter, whose name happened to be Margarita. The drink evolved over time and now is made with tequila, triple sec, and lime juice.

Be Humble Day: Today is all about not bragging about yourself and your accomplishments, but to do so about others--your kids, friends, co-workers.

International World Thinking Day: This day was created in 1926at the 4th annual Girl Guide/Girl Scout International Conference. It is still celebrated around the world by Girl Scouts and other girl groups. Originally, it was a time to show thanksgiving and appreciation to other Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. It has evolved into a day for girls everywhere to learn about important education and training in health issues that affect girls and women.

Until next time, celebrate every hour of every day in your life because each moment is special.

photos courtesy of deposit photos.


February Crafting ~ by Lexa Fisher

I never imagined that taking an all-day writing workshop would re-kindle my creative energy, but it certainly did. Not only did I come away with fresh ideas for my current novella, but also with renewed energy and ideas for my creative outlet of making cards this month.

I'd purchased a Valentine card kit to inspire me with new ideas and craft materials. The neon pink glitter paste you see in the hearts above is part of the kit, and is almost gone now--I love the bright color!

In addition to using the materials in the kit, I learned several new card folding techniques. Here is a corner fold card.


Another folding technique I learned is the diagonal fold.



Here are two more card styles I made this month: the mini card-on-a-card, and a top fold.


My favorite new technique is the Z-fold, which is easy to make but looks quite intricate. It also uses lots of decorative papers, which I love and you can see I've used in all of these examples.

Making cards wasn't all I did for Valentine's Day. Since we're not going out shopping, I needed to make my sweetie something chocolatey and homemade. I've had these soap and candy molds for decades, and they came in handy again. These are hand-poured crispy rice cereal and sunflower seed butter filled chocolates--that he refrained from eating in one day...25 hours counts as more than a day, right? 😄


 I hope your Valentine's Day was sweet!

Hearts in Nature ~ by Jacquolyn McMurray

Rachel Walker on Unsplash
Ahhh, February. That time of year when we see heart shapes everywhere we look, especially in the media. 

Heart shapes. Symbols of love and reminders of those we love. 

Have you ever noticed how many heart shapes Mother Nature has given us? They are there for your enjoyment, if you just look. 

Photo by Jacquolyn McMurray

Cherimoya, one of my favorite sub-tropical fruits, grows on our farm. Its skin is rather leathery, but the fruit inside is creamy. Some folks call it the custard apple.

Photo by Jacquolyn McMurray

Several plants have leaves that form a heart shape. This four-leaf clover has hearts within hearts if you look carefully.

Photo by Jacquolyn McMurray

Don't you love the pattern in this leaf?

Photo by Jacquolyn McMurray

On our treks to the beach, I'm always on the look out for heart-shaped coral. Beachcombing takes on a different meaning when your focus is finding symbols of love. This piece of coral is sitting on a heart-shaped chunk of lava rock. 

Photo by Jacquolyn McMurray
Every time I discover another heart shape in nature, I think of it as being surrounding by love. On your next walk, see how many symbols of love you can find in nature. 

Please click HERE to view other posts by Jacquolyn.

Getting to Know My Neighbors

  Now that I've been working at home for over 400 days, I've really gotten to know my neighbors--the backyard neighborhood life, tha...